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Can Leopard Geckos Eat Hornworms? Vet-Reviewed Facts & FAQs


May 29, 2023
Insect Hornworm


Insect Hornworm
Dr. Lorna Whittemore Photo

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Leopard geckos are popular pets because they’re adorable, interesting, and very laid back. Plus, these reptiles are independent; all of these traits make them popular exotic pets. However, leopard geckos require very specific maintenance and husbandry, particularly when it comes to their diet.

As insectivores, a leopard gecko’s diet consists of insects—primarily crickets and mealworms. Though crickets and mealworms tend to be the most popular insects to give to leopard geckos, you might be wondering if there are other insects safe for them to eat. There are! And the hornworm is one of them. Hornworms are actually a type of moth caterpillar, Manduca sexta, or the tobacco hornworm. Giving your leopard gecko hornworms does come with a few caveats. Read on to find out everything you should know!

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Benefits of Hornworms

Feeding your leopard gecko hornworms now and then offers it a few benefits, some nutritional, some not. Dietary benefits include the hornworm’s high moisture content, which enables your leopard gecko to get more water (this is especially good for leopard geckos that are ill and suffering dehydration), and are a source of calcium and phosphorus.1 Calcium and phosphorus are particularly important when it comes to warding off metabolic bone disease.2 Reptiles require roughly two times much calcium as phosphorus, a ratio of 2:1.

Other than those nutritional benefits, hornworms don’t contain chitin, which means they are easier for leopard geckos to digest. Plus, because they are slow-moving and brightly colored, they are simpler for your gecko to catch.

However, there are a few cons to giving hornworms to your leopard gecko.

Image Credit: こうこう きちでん, Pixabay

Downsides of Hornworms

While leopard geckos generally love hornworms, they don’t meet all their nutritional needs. For example, hornworms have far less protein (9%) than super worms, mealworms, and crickets. So, they shouldn’t be a regular part of your pet’s diet (which could be disappointing to your gecko because they enjoy them so much, they can sometimes become addicted to hornworms if offered too often!).

It’s also more challenging to gut load hornworms, as they prefer sweet things to other foods. And because hornworms have a shorter lifespan, they can only be stored for about two months. Due to this short lifespan and the general cost of hornworms, they can be a more costly option to feed your leopard gecko.

Feeding Hornworms to Your Leopard Gecko

The two most important things to know about feeding hornworms to your leopard gecko are that juvenile leopard geckos can only eat small hornworms (otherwise, the hornworms can pose a choking risk!), and you should never feed your pet any hornworms from the wild. With hornworms found in places such as your front yard, you have no idea where they’ve been or what they’ve gotten into. These hornworms could be affected by toxins on plants they have fed on, and could harm your leopard gecko.

Other than that, you should only feed hornworms to your gecko sparingly. For example, one large one each week, two medium ones a week, or three small ones weekly. As stated above, too many hornworms can anecdotally become addictive to your leopard gecko (because they’re awfully yummy!), resulting in your pet refusing food that contains all the nutrients it needs.

Though it’s more difficult to gut load hornworms, you should still try to do this 12–48 hours before giving them to your gecko. And because hornworms lack in many nutritional areas, supplementing them by dusting them with vitamin and mineral powder will help provide a bigger nutritional boost.

leopard gecko eating mealworm
Image Credit: MattiaATH, Shutterstock

What Constitutes a Healthy Leopard Gecko Diet

You don’t want your leopard gecko to eat the same thing every day. Not only is that boring for your pet, but it will limit the nutrients they receive. They should receive a variety of insects to maintain health. Plus, some insects have higher levels of fat content, so they should only be given to your gecko sparingly to avoid weight gain. When it comes to the sorts of insects your leopard gecko will enjoy, try a variety of these:

  • Mealworms
  • Crickets
  • Dubia roaches
  • Beetles
  • Hornworms
  • Butter worms
  • Waxworms
  • Grasshoppers

However, do avoid any insects found in the wild and fireflies (which are toxic to leopard geckos).

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Leopard geckos can absolutely eat hornworms (and enjoy them immensely!), but they shouldn’t have too many of them. Besides lacking some nutritional value, leopard geckos can end up choosing to only eat this tasty snack and forgo other foods. A healthy diet for your leopard gecko will include a variety of insects. Contact a reptile specialist for advice on feeding and care of your leopard gecko if you have any concerns.

Featured Image Credit: warrior-on-ice, Pixabay

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